In September 2014, Excellent Development's former Individual Giving Manager, Kirsty Cunningham, joined our sand dam expedition to Kenya. This is her story:

"As Individual Giving Manager, my job was to encourage support for Excellent Development by spreading the word about sand dams. Kirsty Cunningham

I’ve seen many examples of how sand dams make a positive impact on peoples’ lives. Yet, I had never seen a real sand dam, nor met the people who benefit from them.

"We were greeted with warmth and affection by every community we visited. I couldn’t have asked for more – I saw sand dams and I saw the inspiring change they brought to people’s lives. What a result!"

Kirsty Cunningham, Excellent Development's former Individual Giving Manager.

Nothing comes for free

Because I wanted to understand the reality of sand dams in a truly physical sense, I took the decision to join eight other volunteers in our annual sand dam expedition. Following the Excellent philosophy that ‘nothing comes for free’, I decided to fund the trip myself and took the role as a fellow expeditioner, rather than a member of staff.  Looking back, I’m delighted I made the decision to go.

Meeting Lois

Before we began dam building, we spent a day visiting a number of established sand dams. And during these visits, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet people I had only previously seen in our newsletters and appeals. People like Lois Masila, who we visited on our first day, and who welcomed us with other members of Wumiisyo wa Kiumoni self-help group.

I recognised her smiling face from a past newsletter – a smile even bigger in real life! Lois and her group were proud to show us the fruits of their labour: a lush, bounteous vegetable garden that provided food for their families.

Learning about a very different life

When I found out a little more about Lois and other members of Wumiisyo wa Kiumoni, I appreciated just how different their lives really are. The group formed in 2010, and in that time, they have built four dams, which serve their tree nursery and vegetable plots. Before then, their journey to reach water was anything from 4-8 kilometres, which the group were heavily dependent on due to the lack of reliable rains. 

At this time, water scarcity often meant that crops failed, children missed school (because of a lack of school fees) and families would survive on one meal a day. This was the poverty they had all known, yet what they had created was prosperity, good health, income and the chance for their children to enjoy the education they deserve. No wonder they were delighted – I was too.

Building a sand dam

The next day, our group of expeditioners began working with the Athiani Famers’ self-help group to build their sand dam.  We threw ourselves into the various jobs with great enthusiasm: collecting rocks, mixing cement, wheeling barrows of soil and sand. It was the most physical and laborious work I had done in years and it took every effort to keep the pace! 

But in working together, we saw the dam beginning to take shape. It was fascinating to see the empty trench gradually fill with cement and rocks. The dam took shape in front of our very eyes – it was a privilege to witness.

Stories of achievement

We were greeted with warmth and affection by every community we visited. The members of each self-help group wanted to share with us their own story: the challenges they had once faced, and how they had worked to overcome them. Each person we spoke to exemplified the principle that ‘nothing comes for free’. This wasn’t gratitude for handouts, but stories of achievement and tireless hard work, with just a little support to begin with.

I couldn’t have asked for more – I saw sand dams and I saw the inspiring change they brought to people’s lives. What a result!"

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